Scott was new to the area. The garage chain he worked for couldn't recruit locally, so sent him to the business they'd purchased in Carnbeg.
The back of beyond, it felt like.
'The town that time forgot. Time didn't want it!' he told the girls he went after, and they cheerily laughed along, except Sian, his latest.
'What's up, Sian?'
She was remembering her Carnbeg great-grandma's stories about brownies and banshees and glastigs.
'You don't believe all that, do you?'
'My great-gran made them sound real okay. As real as you or me.'
To Scott it was a load of old hokum.
He TXT'd her about next time. His plan was to take her out on his motorbike. He wanted to get them away from prying eyes. He brought her a helmet, and Sian held on pillion how he told her. At a crossroads she dunted him on the back. Not that way, not that way!
They pulled up their visors.
'Why not?' Scott asked her.
'That's where the warrior sleeps.'
'What's his name?'
'How'd I know?'
Scott smirked. But Sian wasn't smiling.
'Anyway, the one that held this place for the Picts or something.'
'You're kidding me.'
'My great-grandma wasn't kidding.'
Scott looked to where she was pointing. Some old trees surrounded a grassy mound.
'If you're going up there,' Sian told him, 'I'm walking home, right?'
Scott was intrigued, and he was determined to prove to Sian she was wrong about the place. It was just some trees, and a wee hill. Warriors die, and that's that. Old folk tales, and toothless wrinklies telling them. Nothing in it, see?
Sian was proving hard to catch compared with the other Carnbeg girls. Scott ended up most nights in his rented bedroom working the remote on his Playstation. He could take on whole armies that way, and felt he was match for any warrior no one knew the name of.
'I'll show her it's all crap, that.'
If Sian wouldn't go with him to the spot, then he'd go by himself.
After a couple of lagers he set out. He reached the gate into the field, and nudged the bike through. CLOSE THE GATE. Not if you don't say 'please'. Bugger the Country Code.
He pulled the ringtop on another can of lager.
He rode across the grass.
He did a loud circuit of the mound. The tree branches were like scraggy grasping arms. Carbuncles on the trunks watched him like big bulging eyes.
He'd intended climbing to the top of the hillock, or even getting up there on the bike, but … He finished the lager, and threw the can between two oaks, into the long grass on the mound.
He felt tired. He'd had an early start this morning, 7.30. Off-road the bike was like a bucking steer to control. He turned, revved, and set off back to the open gate.
He was glad to have hard tarmacadam beneath the wheels again.
He'd been going to stop at Sian's, but when he got there the house was in darkness.
One more drink, then, at the Cross Keys.
He pushed up his visor as he walked in.
The woman behind the bar turned round. She smiled in a vague way.
'I thought you were Scott from the garage.'
What did she mean?
He took off his helmet to show her.
'I got you two confused. Sorry, sir.'
What was up with her?
He looked for somewhere to sit. A bald man was nudged by his wife, and stood up.
'Here's one. I'll move.'
No one had ever got up and offered him a seat before.
'You take the weight off your feet, pal.'
Behind the bar was a mirror. Scott peered across. Then he looked over his shoulder, to see who the person was.
Nobody was standing there.
He spun back round, staring into the mirror.
An old man was staring back at him from the wall. Pale skin hung slack on his thin face. His mouth dropped open. He was toothless. His eyes bulged. He raised an old scraggy hand to touch his face, just how Scott was trying to touch his.
The mouth let out a shriek, a loud desolate wail to reach to kingdom come.
© Ronald Frame
Published in The Herald 2008